Wind Farms And Pylons In Ireland Essay Samples
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This paper would like to investigate the impacts of wind farms and pylons in Ireland. Recent public outcry regarding the utilization of wind energy in Ireland has raised concerns whether the sustainability of wind energy is real or not. For the same reason, this paper will look into the advantages and disadvantages of wind farms and its related technology and infrastructure and examine the ethical issues associated with its operation.
Wind farms and pylons are two of the most recognizable structures brought by energy production technologies. Wind farms harness the wind’s velocity and convert it into mechanical power. This power is then converted to electrical energy, which is carried through high voltage wires mounted on top of pylons. Evidently, wind farms and pylon structures go hand in hand; the former is used for production while the other one is used for distribution. Obviously, these structures are made primarily for energy production. Wind is considered as one of renewable energies available in nature and is considered as a greener alternative compared to power plants that uses fossil fuel or nuclear power . In line with the movement to utilize green energy, proponents of wind farms believe that harnessing wind energy is one way of curbing the world’s carbon emission. Accordingly, wind farms can significantly reduce the world’s reliance to power plants that uses fossil fuel in order to produce energy. While such claims may seem ethically and morally sound, skeptics believe that the environmental impact of constructing these enormous structures as well as their long term effects might be overlooked. In Ireland, where some of these structures have already been established, the public expresses their concern regarding the construction of additional wind farms and pylons. In 2014, for example, thousands of protesters have marched on the streets of Dublin to express their objection for the construction of additional wind farm and pylon structures. Are these public objections justified? Could it be that harnessing wind energy and the structures that support it is more detrimental than the advantages associated with it?
Ireland’s Energy Profile
Ireland’s energy supply comes from five major sources: oil, natural gas, coal, peat and renewables. Oil provides the largest energy supply at 48% followed by natural gas at 33%. Coal and peat is estimated to provide 9% and 6% respectively while renewables, which includes wind and hydro energy is estimated to supply 4.6% of the country’s energy needs. The total primary energy supply of Ireland is at 14.4 Mtoe (Mtoe is a unit of measure adopted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to define the amount of energy released by burning one mega ton of crude oil). It should be noted though that inland production is only 14% and the rest of the energy supply comes from sources outside the country. When it comes to renewable energy, Ireland’s geographical and topographical location limits its utilization of solar and hydro power. For the same reason, wind, biofuels and wastes are the main sources of its renewable energy production. Wind power is especially important in Ireland’s renewable energy production. Accordingly, “Ireland has the fourth-highest share of wind in TPES and in electricity generation, after Denmark, Spain and Portugal”.
Wind Energy Technology
Wind energy has been utilized since time immemorial. As observed by Shepherd, wind energy has been utilized early in human history that the windmill’s “genesis is lost in antiquity”. The concept behind the wind turbine is quite simple and straightforward. Basically, a windmill devise utilizes the wind’s velocity to rotate its blades thereby converting the wind’s kinetic energy into mechanical energy. Attached on the rotor or the blade is the dynamo, which converts the rotating motion of the blade in to electrical energy. Evidently, the stronger the kinetic energy of the wind is, the higher is the windmill’s capacity to generate electricity. In the 19th century, wind turbines have been increasingly utilized to generate electricity and have become the major source of electrical energy in regions where fossil fuels are scarce. European countries such as Denmark, for example, are among those who have increasingly utilized wind energy for their electrical energy needs. In Europe, the importance of windmills for power generation was realized after fossil fuel became scarce during World War II when their supply lines were cut. This scenario prompted the full utilization of wind power in Europe that eventually led to the development of the wind turbine and wind farms.
Pylons, on the other hand, are a metal tower that supports high-voltage electrical lines. Apparently, these structures are necessary considering the dangers of high-voltage electricity. Pylons vary in height but usually range from around 25 to 50 meters. The shapes of the pylons also vary. Among the first pylons that were employed in the 18th century are “wooden poles with zinc iron barbed wire supported by porcelain insulators fixed to the pole with screws and with bolt hooks that supported the wire”. Later on, V-shaped and portal pylons made of steel material became more common. Not much has changed in the use of pylons in electrical transmission systems. Among its obvious advantage is its ease in installation as well as it can be utilized in any terrains and route.
Wind Technology Drawbacks
Being one of the European nations that have the largest share in terms of wind energy generation, Ireland is considerably familiar to wind technology; its advantages and drawbacks. Despite the fact that the country is largely dependent from its neighbors for its energy supply, proposal to increase wind farms and its supporting infrastructures such as the installation of pylons within its borders has been strongly opposed by most of its residents. One of the major concerns related with wind generation is on its environmental impact. In order to maximize production, huge areas of forested lands are often compromised for the installation of these wind farms. Construction of wind turbines and pylons requires clearing and grubbing operations in order to lay their foundations. Natural niche of ground dwelling creatures and wildlife are disturbed, which may have environmental implications in the long run. Experts have also observed that wind turbines cause fatalities of birds and bats as they collide with the turbine blades. On the process, natural environments are drastically disturbed, which can destroy the affected area’s biodiversity.
Human impacts of wind power generation technologies range from economic, technological, aesthetic and health issues. Proponents of wind farming believe that there are long term economic advantages in using this technology. Accordingly, wind energy is free and sustainable and so they reason that in the long run, wind farming is economically advantageous. It is also a common belief that such developments would result to the creation of new jobs as well as it would increase local taxes. However, while wind energy is free, the technologies that support it as well as its maintenance are rather costly. Perhaps during the initial construction, the project could generate jobs but after the construction is completed, only a few men are needed to run the system. As observed by Rosenbloom, of the numerous workers needed to construct a wind farm facility, only few are retained. Accordingly, the average job created by a wind farm facility is only 1 to 2 jobs per 20 megawatt installed capacity. Aside from being limited, the energy generated by wind farms are mostly unreliable and so the burden of sustaining the power supply in Ireland are still carried by power plants that run on fossil fuel. And since wind energy generation is limited, it only benefits a few of Ireland’s population. Aesthetic issues are also among the major concerns associated with wind turbines and pylons. According to Jay, “In the countryside, especially in areas of scenic value, overhead lines have often been considered visually intrusive, and have been objects of dissatisfaction, even vehement opposition”. Research has shown that the noise and electromagnetism that are produced by the wind turbines can have detrimental health impacts on humans that live nearby. Electromagnetic interference can also cause malfunctions of electronic devices, which may pose significant convenience issues.
Wind farms and its supporting technologies pose ethical dilemmas that are quite difficult to resolve. Wind power has been commonly regarded as a sustainable energy source and yet its utilization seems to have adverse impacts that exceed its advantages. In weighing ethical dilemmas, two ethical theories are often used; the utilitarian point of view and the deontological point of view . In a utilitarian perspective, the common good is always regarded as the ethical choice while on deontology; it is the performance of duty that is considered as ethical. The long term sustainability of wind energy makes it advantageous in a general perspective. Evidently, a time will come when the world’s supply of fossil fuel will eventually deplete thereby the existence and development of wind farms will be increasingly necessary as the world progress in to the future. If analyzed under utilitarian theory, it appears that wind farms and pylons do have a universal advantage. Although its effects on those directly in contact with the structures are arguably negative, its universal impact especially in terms of creating sustainable energy maybe considered ethical under the utilitarian point of view. However, duty suggests that the government should hear the grievances of its people. As evidenced by massive protests of Irish citizens who are against the additional installation of wind farms and pylons, under the theory of deontology, it is only ethical for the government to hear and respond to the request of its people and give them what they wanted.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Wind energy has always been regarded as a clean and sustainable energy alternative. For the same reason, energy companies have focused on harnessing wind power and convert its energy into a useable form of electrical energy that powers homes and industries. But as observed, the construction and development of wind energy as in wind farms and its related infrastructures have taken its toll on the environmental, aesthetic and health well-being of the community where it operates. Basing on the studies, wind energy generation is operated at the expense of some wildlife and people who lives in proximity to these structures. Even so, it could not be denied that the world’s future in energy relies on sustainable sources. It is a common knowledge that the availability of fossil fuels is not forever and time will come when it will eventually deplete. When this time comes, wind energy will be of enormous value especially in Ireland where these machines are already significantly contributing to its energy needs. Despite the negative impacts of wind farms, necessity suggests that Ireland should still pursue its renewable energy ambitions. However, it should look for alternative solutions to wind farming and transmission of power such as construction of offshore wind farms using submerged cables. While these emerging technologies are quite expensive, it does reduce the negative impacts associated with wind farming and pylons.
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National Research Council. Environmental Impacts of Wind-Energy Projects . May 2007. http://www.vawind.org/assets/nrc/nrc_wind_report_050307.pdf (accessed March 2015).
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